On Tuesday, June 14, 1870, a sultry day by most measures, residents of the then-city of Brooklyn were ready when their Atlantics baseball team took the field at home.
The visiting Cincinnati Red Stockings (now known as the Cincinnati Reds) had started the previous National Association of Base Ball Players season as the sport’s first team with exclusively professional players. When they reached Brooklyn, the Red Stockings had an 81-game league winning streak, including a 32-10 defeat of the Atlantics in 1869.
“All Brooklyn seemed awake to the event of the day,” the New York World reported on game day 150 years ago. “Stores were deserted, boys who could not obtain permission to leave school played hooky, and hundreds who could or would not produce the necessary fifty-cent stamp for admission looked on through cracks in the fence, or even climbed boldly to the top, while others were perched in the topmost limbs of the trees, or on the roofs of surrounding houses.”
As many as 20,000 spectators showed up for the game at the Capitoline Grounds, located in the area now known as Bed-Stuy. Built in 1862 as a 15-acre skating venue, the Capitoline became one of baseball’s first two enclosed grounds — the other being a nearby Brooklyn facility known as the Union Grounds. The parks’ configuration was the catalyst for paid baseball attendance.
With the Brooklyn-Cincinnati game tied, 5-5, after nine innings, Atlantics fans swarmed the field. The home team joined in the celebration. Alas, both captains needed to agree to end a game in a draw, and the Red Stockings’ Harry Wright opted to resume play.
In the bottom of the 11th inning, with Brooklyn trailing, 7-6, Atlantics captain and catcher Bob Ferguson — a Brooklyn native and baseball’s first switch hitter — changed to batting left. The surprise move worked. Ferguson drove in the tying run. On an error on the same play, he raced home with the winning run.
“The yells of the crowd,” the New York Sun noted the next day, “could be heard for blocks around and a majority of the people acted like escaped lunatics.”
The following year, baseball started its first fully professional baseball league, with the Atlantics-Red Stockings game credited as the stimulant. No known baseball league winning streak before or since has reached 81 games.